Lee Westwood, Tiger Woods, Leeds United, opportunity and a sprint finish - Graham Smyth
The Team Europe foursomes pairing were four holes up on Steve Stricker and Tiger Woods in what was a 2010 Ryder Cup plagued by the weather.
Torrential rain had already disrupted the schedule heavily when darkness called a halt to Saturday’s play before Westwood could make the birdie attempt.
The rain returned and, by the time the Nottingham Forest fan, caddied by Leeds United supporter Billy Foster, could settle over the ball, it was Sunday afternoon.
Team Europe were leading in all six matches out on the course, but Americans Stricker and Woods – who had already combined to win two matches in Newport – had taken the ninth hole to sow a little seed of doubt.
Team USA were 6-4 up overall.
A hush descended, Westwood sent the ball on its way and, several seconds later, a roar reverberated around the sodden course as the Europeans struck a decisive blow. Westwood and Donald inflicted Woods’ worst-ever Ryder Cup defeat and Europe, who took a three-point lead into the final day, went on to regain the cup.
“That putt Westy holed on 10 was just magnificent – I can’t even put it into words,” said Donald of his partner’s Sunday heroics.
Westwood had gone to sleep the night before knowing that putt was his chance to make a statement, to restart the competition on the front foot and remind the Americans they were in for a tear-up. He showed pure focus at a vital moment. This is the challenge now for Leeds United. Over the course of 37 games, they have put themselves in a position to win something special.
They say they have worked tirelessly to keep focused during an unscripted and far-from-ideal three-month break. Kalvin Phillips told The YEP the players have not taken their eyes off the opportunity. And now, suddenly, the Championship restart is upon them.
In 10 days’ time they will walk out at Cardiff City Stadium knowing they have a chance to make a statement, to serve a reminder, to fire a warning shot – whichever cliche you want to attach to the occasion. Opportunity awaits, albeit in an alien environment, free of supporters and the natural soundscape they produce for 90 minutes.
So much about life has changed since they last played and so many elements of the matchday routine will be different for Marcelo Bielsa and his players when play resumes, but old habits die hard and his style of play is, by now, ingrained in their minds and muscles.
It was ‘business as usual’ when the footballs came out and murderball kicked off at Thorp Arch and it took just a pair of Bielsa’s trademark training sessions to settle Phillips’ mind: “We’re ready.”
What might just play in the Whites’ favour, alongside the physical conditioning that has set them apart from most if not all of their rivals, is that, while the club has earned an unwanted reputation for being poor finishers of a season, under Bielsa they’ve been supreme starters. And this is as much of a start as it is a finish.
They’ve gone through a mini pre-season and will travel to Wales armed with memories of their previous two ‘opening days’ as Bielsa players – 3-1 wins against Stoke City and Bristol City.
In the Argentine’s first season in charge they took the Championship by storm. In both seasons they’ve compiled a record of five wins and a draw from their opening six. This time around, that record would put them on the brink of glory.
Leeds know that the decision to decide promotion by points per game is, right now while they’re top, a safety net. But they also know that a poor start to the resumption could see that net removed.
They have knowledge that neither Portsmouth nor Fleetwood had when they were locked at 2-2 on March 10. Had either side have conceded a third, they would not now be in the League One play-offs. Leeds won’t want to ever let the margins get that fine but, if Fulham beat Brentford and Leeds lose at Cardiff, the Cottagers could leave Elland Road just a point behind the Whites on June 27.
Conversely, Leeds could be 13 points clear by full-time on that date.
The Championship is a 46-game marathon but what remains is a sprint.
Having stayed out of the headlines as much as Leeds can during the interlude, having done so much of the hard work already, the task now is to simply stay on track.